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WISCONSIN NEWS ROUNDUP: State's corn harvest moving forward

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Wisconsin's corn harvest is moving forward. Officials say three-percent of the state's corn-for-grain has been harvested, along with 54-percent of the corn for animal feed.

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Some crop reporters say silage corn was too wet to chop after Saturday's heavy rains in many parts of the Badger State. Despite that rain, 59-percent of the topsoil is rated short or very short of moisture. That's about four-percent less than a week ago. In general, 44-percent of the Wisconsin corn is rated good-to-excellent, and 31-percent fair. About 42-percent of the state's soybeans are in good-to-excellent shape, and 32-percent is rated fair. Officials say the potato harvest is underway in Portage, Marquette, Langlade, Vilas, and Dunn counties.

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Governor Scott Walker is looking at the idea of having the state government provide its own health insurance to its employees, instead of having outside HMO's do it. A consultant says the state could save 4-to-5-percent a year by becoming self-insured -- mainly by avoiding taxes and fees under President Obama's Affordable Care Act. Today, the governor will learn more about the proposal by speaking with health plan executives. A committee of the state Group Insurance Board is scheduled to consider the idea on October 11th. Right now, the state has contracts with 18 private HMO's to insure state workers throughout Wisconsin. Self-insured employers pay benefits directly to its employees, and they carry the risk for their plan's losses. The National Conference of State Legislature says at least 20 states self-insure their workers.

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A central Wisconsin woman is accused of causing a second traffic death in recent years. 23-year-old Hanna Schacht of Amherst appeared in Portage County Circuit Court yesterday on four felony charges related to drunk driving. Authorities said she was going almost 70-miles-an-hour on a town road September 15th, when she struck a car that was leaving a driveway. That driver, 31-year-old Richard Wetzel, was seriously hurt. His 51-year-old father Daniel Wetzel died at the scene. Schacht's blood alcohol level was said to be point-15, almost twice the legal limit. She's is in jail under a $100,000 cash bond on charges of causing death and injury by OWI, plus two related counts of driving with a prohibited blood alcohol level. Her next court appearance is set for October 10th, when a judge will decide if there's enough evidence to order a trial. In 2012, Schacht was convicted in Woodstock, Illinois for speeding, after a friend tried stealing marijuana from a drug dealer. The dealer was riding on the roof of the car and fell off. He later died from head injuries.

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About 800,000 federal workers are clearing their desks and updating their voice-mail greetings before they get furloughed. The federal government went into a partial shutdown at 11 last night, as the fiscal year begins with no tax funding except for entitlements and vital operations. Many will work without getting paid, with the promise of a retroactive check once the shutdown ends. Mary Ann Jones of Superior knows all too well what that's like. She worked at the Twin Ports VA Clinic during the last government shutdown in 1996. Jones told WDIO-TV that her and her staff did not get paid for 6-to-8 weeks, but they had to work anyway. She has since retired, but today's VA hospital workers will not have to suffer the same fate. Ralph Huessner of the VA says his agency's budget is on a two-year cycle, so it's not subject to the holdup over the fiscal 2014 federal spending package. As a result, Huessner says the shutdown will not affect any of the VA's hospitals and clinics.

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A stalemate in Congress over Obamacare has led to the federal government's first shutdown in 17 years. Ironically, the Affordable Care Act is still going full-tilt, because it's a federal entitlement that's required to keep going -- although you might not find a federal employee to answer questions. Still, today's the day that 500,000-to-700,000 Wisconsinites can start enrolling for the health insurance they'll be required to have come January first. Most Wisconsinites can choose from at least two plans in the federal government's purchasing exchange. You'll find it online at Healthcare.gov. State officials say they have no idea how many folks will approach the system in its first day. Republican Governor Scott Walker opposes Obama-care, and bureaucrats have let the federal government do most of the heavy lifting. Basically, those without coverage from employers must turn to the federal exchange, and get their insurance set by December 15th. That includes about 92,000 childless adults who will lose their BadgerCare due to tighter income eligibility.

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The federal government's partial shutdown could affect you in a number of ways -- some now, and some later if the stalemate drags on. All national parks are closed, which means you won't see the fall colors at the Apostle Islands or the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. The Wisconsin National Guard is losing over 800 technicians, most at bases in Madison and Milwaukee. Major Paul Rickert says about 210 technicians will stay on to perform essential operations. He stresses that the Guard will be ready should an emergency occur. Wisconsin's federal courts will run as normal for at least 10 days before non-essential personnel start being let go. Some Head Start centers are shutting down, and more could gradually close if a shutdown continues. And then there are agencies that will feel an indirect impact, like the Great Lakes Bio-Energy Research Center in Madison. It gets both state and federal funds that will run at least through December. Still, chief investigator Timothy Donohue says the center's work could slow down because a number of its partner labs could close. Essential services will continue, like federal law enforcement and air traffic control. The Postal Service uses no tax dollars, which means you'll keep getting mail.

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All of Wisconsin's federal lawmakers stood with their parties, as they voted their way to the government's first shutdown in 17 years. The final roll call wrapped up at 12:10 this morning, with a request for negotiations to be considered later today. The Republican-controlled House voted 228-199 to keep funding the government on this first day of the new fiscal year -- but only if key parts of President Obama's Affordable Care Act are delayed. The House took a similar vote earlier in the evening, which the Senate later rejected 54-46. Wisconsin's votes went 5-3 with the Republicans, while the state's two senators split their votes. The Democrat Obama blamed House Republicans for the shutdown, saying they're trying to tie government funding to "ideological demands" to save face with the GOP's extreme right wing. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) replied that nobody wants a shutdown, but he said Obamacare is having a quote, "devastating impact" and something had to be done. Economists generally do not expect significant harm to the economy unless the shutdown lasts more than a few days.

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Five Wisconsin corrections' officials are spending two weeks in Armenia, to help the country improve its prisons. The group departed last Friday, and will return October 12th. Wisconsin hosted Armenian correctional officials in May and August. They visited state prisons, and had a number of training sessions. The Wisconsin group is visiting prisons in Armenia -- including a new lock-up that's being built in the province of Armavir. The delegation hopes to help create activation-and-security plans for the new prison.

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Almost 500 Wisconsinites have been killed by domestic abusers since 2000. That's according to a group called End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin, which released an annual report on domestic homicides yesterday. The group said 52 people died in 38 incidents in the Badger State last year. In four of those cases, the abuser also died. The 2012 totals were up from the previous year, when 37 domestic abuse victims were killed. The high during the 2000's came in 2009, when 67 victims died. The End Abuse group says workplace homicides appear to be on the rise -- as well as those involving veterans. The group used to be called the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Its director, Patti Seger, said abusers are too often not held accountable for their actions -- and they continue to illegally possess guns. The group said 53 domestic killers since 2000 used guns they were not allowed to have. A bill in the state Legislature would require judges to verify whether those under domestic abuse restraining orders give up their weapons as required by law. The End Abuse group also wants to revive the idea of universal background checks for all gun sales -- something the U.S. Senate rejected earlier this year.

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A central Wisconsin man accused of cashing a relative's Social Security checks for over 30 years is headed to trial, after an apparent plea deal fell through. 72-year-old Ronald Disher of Amherst Junction tried but failed yesterday to get a $20,000 bond reduced, so he could get out of jail for the first time in over a year. A three-day trial is now set to begin January 29th in Portage County. Disher is one of three people charged with defrauding Social Security out of 175-thousand dollars. They're accused of hiding the death of Marie Jost, who disappeared with her son Theodore in the 1980's. Disher's wife Delores was found to be unfit to stand trial this summer, after she had a stroke. The other defendant, Charles Jost, is due in court this afternoon -- and he may or may not strike a plea deal. Prosecutors believe the three may have killed Marie and Theodore Jost and disposed of their bodies on the family's property. However, extensive lab tests failed to show DNA evidence which identified bones found on the site as belonging to them.

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A Green Bay company is getting almost two-million federal dollars to put a cover on a site where sediment is stored. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers said yesterday that Peters Concrete won a contract to install a cover at Renard Island. That's a 55-acre, man-made island near the mouth of the Fox River. It was built 33 years ago, and it stores dredging sediments through 1996. About a quarter-million yards of clean sediment will be brought from another facility in Green Bay, and will create a three-foot cover on Renard Island. The work is expected to be finished in about a year-and-a-half.

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A state lawmaker says Milwaukee's latest co-sleeping death is a perfect example of why the practice should be a crime in some cases. Authorities said yesterday that a six-month-old girl died while her mother was under the influence of alcohol -- and she gave conflicting stories to police about what happened. The girl was the 11th in Milwaukee to die this year from unsafe sleeping conditions. Assembly Republican Samantha Kerkman of Powers Lake proposed a bill last week that would make it a felony to harm-or-kill a child by co-sleeping with a youngster while intoxicated. Kerkman tells WTMJ-TV in Milwaukee that co-sleeping under the influence is like driving under the influence. In her words, "You have a choice to do it." Kerkman is seeking co-sponsors for her bill, which is not as strict as one she proposed in the past that went nowhere. She hopes her new measure -- and the latest Milwaukee co-sleeping death -- will convince her colleagues to support children who don't have a say in their own safety.

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A jury in Minnesota could decide today whether Jeffrey Trevino is guilty-or-innocent of killing his wife, who's from the Wausau area. Closing arguments are scheduled to begin at nine this morning in Ramsey County Circuit Court in Saint Paul. That's where the 39-year-old Trevino is accused of killing his 30-year-old wife Kira Steger in February. Her body wasn't found until early May in the Mississippi River. Both the prosecution and defense rested their cases yesterday. Trevino refused to testify, and the defense did not call any other witnesses. Earlier yesterday, prosecutors tried to refute a defense claim that Steger's use of marijuana might have helped cause her death. Retired Saint Paul police sergeant John Wright testified that a bag of pot was found in Steger's purse inside her abandoned car -- but he said the value of the drug was "minimal," perhaps around 20-dollars. Defense lawyer John Conard tried but failed to get the charges dropped. He said prosecutors failed to prove their case and relied on a quote, "urban legend that the husband always does it."

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A gasoline pipeline is located about 12-feet from where a support pier sank at the high-rise Leo Frigo Interstate bridge in Green Bay. State DOT spokesman Kim Rudat says there's no risk of a leak, or anything worse -- but it is something for investigators and workers at the site to be aware of. The support pier sank two-feet last Wednesday, causing a dip on the four-lane bridge over the Fox River on I-43. Rudat said the pier in question has not sunk any further, and neither have any of the other piers. The bridge is closed while workers determine the cause of the problem and fix it. The fuel line is owned by the West Shore Pipeline Company. It runs from Chicago to Green Bay, carrying up to 70,000 barrels of gasoline per day for the state's most populated areas. Patrick Hodgins of West Shore says the line runs about 12-feet underground, parallel to the Leo Frigo bridge. He said it's not a concern, but his company is monitoring the situation and can shut off the pipeline easily if need be. Hodgins said West Shore would have somebody at the site whenever there's digging, and they don't expect a problem for now.

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A Republican state lawmaker is asking his colleagues to sign onto a bill aimed at keeping certain tobacco products away from kids. The American Cancer Society is among the anti-smoking groups supporting a measure from Sister Bay Assemblyman Gary Bies. It would require several types of candy-flavored tobacco products to be taxed like cigarettes. It would also require those items to be kept behind store counters. Allison Miller of the Cancer Society says they would be out-of-sight, and potentially out-of-mind for many young shoppers. Miller says the products in question are taxed like cigars, because they're wrapped in tobacco leaves instead of paper. She says they're much cheaper than cigarettes -- and it makes it easier for young people to get a hold of them.

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An 11th baby has died this year due to unsafe sleeping conditions in Milwaukee. The county medical examiner's office said the latest victim was a six-month-old girl. Authorities said her mother was drinking at the time, and gave conflicting stories to officers. At first, she said she fell asleep on a living room couch with the infant on her chest. Later, the woman claimed that she placed the girl and her 15-month-old sibling on a couch while she fell asleep on a love seat. Relatives told authorities that the woman is an alcoholic, and she smoked marijuana. Officials say the safest way for infants to sleep on their backs, alone in their own cribs.

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Radcliffe Haughton was one of four Wisconsin men who killed their wives or girlfriends last year, even though they were barred from owning guns at the time. Haughton is the suburban Milwaukee man who killed his wife, two women, and himself at a Brookfield spa almost a year ago. An annual report from the group "End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin" said 53 people were killed since 2000 by domestic abusers who illegally obtained guns. The group said 52 people in the Badger State were killed in 38 domestic violence incidents last year. In four of those cases, the murderers committed suicide. The group used to be known as the Wisconsin Coalition Against Domestic Violence. It's been keeping track of statewide domestic deaths for a dozen years. Last year's total was 17 fewer than the group's record of 67 violent deaths in 2009. Even so, group director Patti Seger said society must do better. She says domestic homicides are preventable -- but abusers are often not held accountable.

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The Wisconsin Supreme Court was asked again today to let low-income people have tax-funded lawyers in certain types of civil cases. Legal Action of Wisconsin, which represents poor people, filed a petition with the justices along with 19 other attorneys. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled long ago that public defenders be appointed in criminal cases -- but the same representation is not legally offered in civil cases. Two years ago, the Wisconsin justices were asked to grant tax-funded lawyers for civil plaintiffs in cases where it's necessary to assure fairness. The justices favored the concept, but they said taxpayers could not afford the high cost -- said at the time to be $50-million a year. John Ebbott of Legal Action said it would be wrong for his group to quit seeking fairness in the civil courts. They're also asking that the Supreme Court pay for a pilot project in Jefferson County, where a study is taking place on the effects of letting low-income litigants have public attorneys in cases of foreclosures, evictions, ending parental rights, and losses of food stamps and other public benefits.

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The head of the U.S. Fish-and-Wildlife Service is strongly defending its plan to drop federal protections for grey wolves in most of the 48 mainland states. Director Dan Ashe said a restoration of the wolves in Wisconsin and the Upper Midwest is one of the greatest conversation success stories ever. Ashe said it proves that grey wolves are no longer in danger of dying out. Public hearings begin in Washington today on a plan first announced in June. It would remove grey wolves from the endangered species' list everywhere in the continental U.S. except for parts of Arizona and New Mexico. That's where Mexican wolves are struggling for survival. Environmentalists say it's too soon to drop federal protections -- and several groups have gone to court to return wolves back to the federal endangered species' list. They were upset that the Badger State and others started wolf hunts, aimed at reducing crop and livestock damage caused by grey wolves.

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A man killed in a one-vehicle crash in northeast Wisconsin was identified today as 69-year-old Paul Studht of Racine. Marinette County authorities said Studht's car was going south when it veered out of control and overturned. He was ejected, and he died at the scene. The crash happened about one yesterday afternoon on Highway 41 in the Marinette County town of Grover.

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Wisconsin homeowners will continue to lose out on financial incentives for solar electric-and-hot water systems. The state's Focus on Energy program announced a temporary suspension in August. It now continues through the end of the year, after the state Public Service Commission voted 2-1 to continue allocating solar funds for more cost-effective bio-energy projects. On its Web site, the Focus on Energy program said funding remains available to help pay for residential geo-thermal energy projects -- but not for solar thermal and photovoltaic technologies. Conservatives on the PSC have criticized funding for the larger numbers of home solar energy projects. They say they're not cost-effective enough -- and they're not a wise use of the money that electric customers pay through their bills for the Focus on Energy program. Eric Callisto, the lone Democrat on the PSC, said the majority is creating uncertainty in the marketplace for solar energy. He said the decision quote, "penalizes entire classes of technologies without any compelling justification."

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The UW-Madison health care program is donating two-million dollars to help low-income people pay for insurance in the new Obama-care exchanges. UW Health gave the funding to the Dane County United Way. They're creating a new program called "Health-Connect" that will pay to insure around 7,300 Dane County residents who make 100-to-133 percent of the poverty level income. Those people would have been funded by Medicaid, had Governor Scott Walker accepted an increase in federal funds to cover people under Obama-care. Wisconsin was one of 36 states which said no to the extra money from Washington -- and Walker tightened eligibility for Medicaid from 200-percent of poverty income to 100-percent. Others in that gap will have to use the federal government's exchange to enroll for coverage between tomorrow and December 15th.

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Milwaukee Police said yesterday that a hit-and-run driver who killed a pedestrian and injured another has turned himself in. The driver is a 43-year-old man who was driving while his license was suspended. Police said the two pedestrians were crossing a south side Milwaukee street late Saturday night when a cargo van struck the pair and kept going. 39-year-old Juan Zapata-Guerrero was killed. A 42-year-old woman was still hospitalized today. Police expect her to recover. The driver told police he kept driving home after striking the pedestrians -- but he turned himself in after hearing about the crash on a morning broadcast yesterday.

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Sean Scallon
Sean Scallon has been a reporter and Sports Editor at the Pierce County Herald newspaper in Ellsworth since 1998. He holds a bachelors degree in communication arts from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He's also worked at newspapers in Glenwood City, Wisconsin; Marion, Illinois and Shawano, Wisconsin. Sean also works as a sports reporter for other newspapers and websites in RiverTown Multimedia from River Falls to Hudson to New Richmond and Red Wing.
(715) 273-4334
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